A year after the merger of Stratasys and Objet, and just months after its acquisition of MakerBot, the company was ready for its close-up. This week, Stratasys hosted the Manufacturing the Future Summit at its headquarters in Eden Prairie, MN. About a dozen journalists were on hand, and more dialed in, to hear Stratasys executives and their customers explain how 3D printing is not only saving them time and money, but enabling entirely new business models and new ways to design products.
The summit kicked off Tuesday night with a dinner and then resumed early yesterday morning with a series of speakers and a tour of RedEye by Stratasys (formerly known as RedEye On Demand). First up was Stratasys CEO David Reis, who answered a question he is routinely asked: Why, after 27 years, is 3D printing suddenly so popular?
“One of the reasons has to do with the improved accessibility and ease of use of the technology that makes it possible for anyone – children, students, and hobbyists or professionals – to use 3D printing for whatever their needs,” he said, “whether it’s for fun, education, design or manufacturing.”
Reis predicted today’s students will graduate expecting 3D printing to be used in the workplace, underscoring why education is such a valuable market for the company.
Allen Cronen, CEO of GVL Poly, a rotational molding company that supplements its business with a Stratasys Fortus 3D printer, agrees. He spoke at the summit later in the day. While moving to 3D printing has put him ahead of his competitors and on a firm growth path, Cronen says he has difficulty filling positions due to a knowledge gap.
“People have this vision of dark and dingy factories,” he said. “We have to educate students and their parents, so the parents don’t dissuade them from going into manufacturing based on an outdated impression of what that means.”
Read my October editorial “Manufacturing a New Image,” to see how some companies and organizations are rallying behind 3D printing as a way to entice young people back into manufacturing.
Organizing Around Manufacturing
Outside of education, Stratasys breaks down the markets it now serves into personal, augmented and alternative manufacturing sectors.
The personal sector incorporates MakerBot’s 3D printers, new 3D scanner and the Thingiverse design community site. Reis credits MakerBot with an important role in changing consumers’ behavior via Thingiverse. More than 1 million different people visit Thingiverse every month and have downloaded 22 million files to date, he said.
Take an in-depth look at how the personal 3D printing market is influencing the professional design engineering market by reading Beth Stackpole’s feature, “3D Printers Get Personal,” in this month’s Desktop Engineering magazine.
Unlike personal 3D printing, which seems to get most of the attention, the augmented 3D printing sector has largely been ignored by those outside of manufacturing, and by many manufacturers. Augmented 3D printing refers to making the jigs, guides and templates that are often needed to enable traditional manufacturing. While sometimes overlooked, this sector can save manufacturers an amazing amount of time and money over traditional manufacturing.
“People are less aware of the augmented part of additive manufacturing,” Reis said later during a one-on-one interview. “It’s a huge opportunity for Stratasys and a huge opportunity for our customers. All of them are using tools today in a traditional way, which is long, expensive, not efficient. Here (with 3D printing) we have tools that can go into production the next morning. There are hundreds of thousands of production facilities who can use this technology today.”
Expand your knowledge of augmented manufacturing by reading “Get a Rapid ROI” from Desktop Engineering’s archives.
Cronen provided a real-world example of the third sector Stratasys is focusing on: alternative manufacturing, in which using 3D printing replaces some traditional manufacturing of end-use parts. One of his customers needed a part to test on a harvester before the harvest season ended. Traditional tooling would have cost about $15,000 for aluminum tooling and would have taken 16 to 20 weeks. Cronen was able to quickly produce the volume of parts needed for testing via its 3D printer.
“Our primary business is rotational molding, but the 3D printing is helping grow that,” Cronen says. “We went from a small company under $1 million in revenue to a company that’s over $5 million in revenue today and will be $50 million by 2020 because of 3D printing.”
If there is a poster child for alternative manufacturing, it has to be Jim Kor, CEO of KOR EcoLogic, which designed the Urbee, dubbing it “the first 3D-printed car,” and “the greenest car in the world.”
He is now working on the Urbee2, which will be more than 50% 3D printed. It may even have a 3D printed metal chassis in addition to the plastic body and interior of the original. Kor expects Urbee2 to be driven across America by his sons (who plan to take the family dog) in 2015 using just 10 gallons of fuel … if he gets funding, in part from an initial Kickstarter campaign.
You can learn more about the project and the funding campaign by watching the video below:
“3D printing allows you to build anything, which allows designers to think of anything,” Kor said.
See how other companies are using additive manufacturing to build end-use parts by reading Pamela Waterman’s “Quick, Custom, and Unusual Parts via Additive Manufacturing” in Desktop Engineering’s archives.
At Your Service
If Stratasys is positioning itself in education and manufacturing sectors, where does that leave its rapid prototyping and manufacturing service, RedEye by Stratasys?
After the tour of the “factory of the future” where aisles of 3D printers quietly built products, layer by layer with hardly any human intervention, Reis said RedEye was a small, but growing (by 30% to 40% per year) part of the company. In addition to being profitable, it provides less tangible benefits, according to Reis.
“It has great value because it puts us in front of the customer and we get very good feedback about what is needed in the market from those customers,” he said.
But in some ways, it’s a competitor to some of Stratasys’ customers who provide 3D printing services. One such company is Thogus, an injection molding company that has expanded into offering 3D printing services.
Matt Hlavin, CEO of Thogus, spoke at the Manufacturing the Future Summit. Thogus has grown 700% since 2009, according to Hlavin who explained how he won a $600,000 contract by providing a 3D printed part along with his bid for a build. He immediately ordered an additional Fortus 3D printer from Stratasys.
Hlavin doesn’t see RedEye as competition, as much as an expert source of information and a safety valve. If he gets more 3D printing orders in than he can handle in time, he can enlist RedEye’s help.
— DE Editors (@DEeditor) October 30, 2013
Bryan Dods, an executive in GE’s Water and Power division, provided a 3D printing perspective from one of the largest companies in the world. As we have reported, GE is serious about using additive manufacturing. He said GE is investing in 3D printing, not only with the acquisition of Morris Technologies, a long-time supplier to GE, but with ongoing training, research, and use of 3D printing in augmented and alternative manufacturing.
Dods said GE began using additive manufacturing in the early ’90s for concept mockup. They then began augmenting their manufacturing process by 3D printing tooling and inspection fixtures.
“These are cost-saving type activities for us, it helps with speed through our new product introduction cycle, but where we start to make money and where I’m focused … is trying to get these new technologies onto products.”
Dods says he has a large installed base that GE provides services and spare parts to. A power plant being down for a day may cost that customer $1 million, so being able to quickly 3D print a part to get the plant up and running again is a huge benefit.
GE is now distributing Stratasys Fortus 3D printing systems to many of its shop floors globally.
“When a $147-$150 billion company’s CEO starts talking about additive manufacturing (as GE’s has) … we’re going to change the world,” Dods said.
Reis may agree, but wants to keep expectations of 3D printing in check.
“We are doing something that will change the way people live,” Reis said as he ended his opening presentation. “I don’t think it’s equal to the Internet or mobile, but people will be talking about what we’re doing now with additive manufacturing in 50 years.”